Do we need a written script when we deliver a talk?

More thoughts on inauguration presence.

I’ve been following the glitch around the presidential oath with some interest.  As I understand it, John Roberts didn’t have a written version of the oath with him and was depending on his memory.  Clearly, in the pressure of the moment, he didn’t have access to what he must have felt he knew so well.  After all, it was only 35 words!

I’ve heard that when we feel anxious, some important mechanism in the brain shuts down and prevents us from remembering things that can feel so simple and accessible in less stressful moments.  And, I think that concern over this possibility is precisely what causes so much of the fear of public speaking.

At the same time, not many of us are as skillful as Obama is at reading a script.  He makes his words come alive.  He animates his thoughts.  You can tell that while his script was prepared in advance, when he delivers a prepared talk, he’s able to access the meaning and feeling behind the words he’s written.

This is not easy.  You can usually tell when someone is reading from a text.  It doesn’t sound natural.  It sounds canned.  The same is true for most people when they’ve memorized a talk.

So, should we read from a script or should we speak without a script?  My personal preference, under most circumstances, is for a speaker to be conversational and not read or recite from memory.  But there are times when the precise wording is really important.  And, reciting the presidential oath is one of them.  It probably would have been a good idea for John Roberts to have had a copy of the oath at hand in case he forgot the words.

In case you are interested, I have written an article on whether to memorize a talk entitled: To Memorize or Not to Memorize That is the Question.

One thought on “Do we need a written script when we deliver a talk?

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